Community News Election 2018 Local Governance Local issues municipal politics

The Tab for the Citizens’ Assembly

May 07, 2018 Editor

by Roger Stonebanks, citizen reporter

As Victoria and Saanich councils prepare for a joint committee of the whole meeting to consider a ballot referendum question for a Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation, one Saanich councillor said the original council authorization has “failed” – because it was conditional on the BC government funding it and that has not happened.

Coun. Judy Brownoff told Saanich Voice Online – referring to the council motion of Jan. 8 – that,

“My belief is that motion has failed unless the Ministry comes back with covering 100 per cent of cost.”

Saanich council had voted unanimously in favour on Jan. 8 of a motion that calls on the BC government “to establish and fund a Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation with interested municipalities.” Victoria council followed suit by unanimously approving the same motion.

However, a letter from Municipal Affairs Minister Selina Robinson refers only to a “template” in Duncan-North Cowichan in which costs of $145,000 (plus staff time) for a Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation were shared one-third by each participant. No cost estimate has been given for Victoria-Saanich. Because Victoria and Saanich are nearly seven times more populous than Duncan-North Cowichan, the costs are expected to be much higher than $145,000.

Commented Brownoff: “How can any provincial minister commit to any amount let alone to one-third without knowing what that could be?” or for Saanich to commit to sharing an unknown amount.

She said, “I do not support spending unknown amounts of taxpayer money on an issue the majority of Saanich taxpayers have not raised as a priority or what the issue is that would be improved?”

She added, “For me there is no doubt Saanich residents will be spending large amounts of monies (no allocation from this year’s budget was established, we tightened down on all departments “asks”, even police). It is too rushed, no information, and is this the No. 1 issue Saanich residents want to spend tax money on? I thought our residents focus is on housing, rebuilding environmental protection i.e. biodiversity, conservation strategy and transportation. Even in our Citizen and Business Surveys we have been doing for years amalgamation does not come up as the No. 1 priority. This has not come up through strategic planning. Who is driving this bus?”

At the April 23 Saanich council meeting, Mayor Richard Atwell reported on a meeting he and Mayor Lisa Helps of Victoria had with ministry staff where there was no definitive request for funding. Both mayors supported, in a report to their councils, a joint meeting that would allow discussion of a potential referendum question. HERE is the link to their joint report and Minister Robinson’s earlier letter.

Saanich council approved a motion, “That Council approve that Saanich and Victoria hold a joint Committee of the Whole meeting to determine which question both local governments will place on the Oct. 20, 2018, general local election ballot.”  There was no reference to funding. The vote was unanimous. The Victoria council motion was different – “That Saanich and Victoria hold a joint Committee of the Whole meeting to determine which question both local governments will place on the October 20, 2018 municipal election ballot in order to receive elector assent to explore the costs and benefits of the amalgamation between the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria.”

The minutes of the April 23 Saanich council meeting summarized the council discussion – “This is an appropriate first step and a discussion worth having. A referendum will give residents the opportunity to vote on whether or not to proceed. The risks and costs need to be provided to residents before a vote. Great care is needed in determining the question to be included on the ballot.”

As for the forthcoming joint meeting of the two councils – the date and place of which remain to be set – Brownoff said she will listen to Saanich residents. Her understanding is that “no matter what question is created” at the joint meeting of the two councils the result would then come back to a Saanich committee of the whole meeting for Saanich public input and then it would be up to council to make a decision.

Brownoff said she is clear that any referendum on Oct. 20 such as establishing a Citizens Assembly on Amalgamation will be financially binding on the incoming council.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Saanich Voice Online welcomes comments especially from Saanich and Victoria council members.

UPDATE – May 10, 2018

Saanich Voice Online emailed members of Saanich council inviting them to respond to this news story.

Susan Brice replied: “If Saanich Council puts a question for public consideration it will be critical that the question is neutral in its direction, unambiguous in its wording and specific in its financial implications.”